in: Reviews

January 31, 2010

Magical Performance by Mark Morris Dance Group and Friends in Boston

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Friday night, January 29, saw the Boston première of Mark Morris’s new set of dances entitled “Mozart Dances,” to Mozart’s music performed by Emmanuel Music’s instrumentalists. It was conducted by Jane Glover, with solo pianists Russell Sherman and his former student, Minsoo Sohn. The work was originally commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (New York) and others, first performed there in 2006, and has had a dozen or so performances elsewhere since then. It is choreographed for 16 dancers, who perform almost entirely as an equal ensemble. On Wednesday evening (the 27th) Morris was interviewed by former Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer at Sanders Theatre, but I was unable to attend. Although he no longer dances with the company, he was present to take his well-deserved and exuberant bow at the end.

Clarification: as Morris’s followers know, the Company does not dance to music, it dances the music, thematically, spiritually, texturally, gesturally, and every other way imaginable. And on this occasion, what incredibly beautiful music, performed in the spirit in which it was created, if not the venue: the spacious Boston Opera House, which was packed.

Although nominally the evening included three dances by the same choreographer, three musical works by the same composer, three different but similar gossamer costumes, and three different but related back screens (enlarged replications of fat paint-brush strokes), the concept was obviously unified. This was achieved not only by these similitudes, but also by identical movements, sometimes just of the hands, associated with identical or recognizably similar musical gestures in all three works.

The first, “Eleven,” Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major, K. 413 (1782/3), with Minsoo Sohn as soloist, opened with a brief appearance of all the dancers. The bare-topped men disappeared at the end of the exposition, leaving the women to finish. The scene was Edward Goryish, with both the backdrop and costumes in various shades of gray and black. (You may see some high-resolution photographs of these here.) The choreography of the first movement clearly mimicked the concerto form of solo vs. tutti, the dancer soloist in black, but in the first movement the solos are brief, no more than a dozen measures that fly by at tempo allegro, except for the cadenza. The highly ornamented Larghetto was delicately reflected gesturally in both hands and feet. This concerto ends surprisingly with a Minuet, which may have suggested the general feeling of lightness and airiness of the dancing. Minsoo Sohn’s performance was equally delicate, but sure, and left me eager to hear more.

The second, “Double,” Mozart’s Sonata in D major for two pianos, K. 448 (K. 375a) (1781), was performed by both soloists. The male dancers were dressed in gray tight knickers and gossamer sleeveless, open shirts, except for Joe Bowie, who wore a torn gray 18th-century topcoat (seen in the first photo on the left); the female dancers were again in gray with white gossamer long skirts. On several occasions the dancers engaged in something reminiscent of contra dancing, perhaps because the great amount of rippling passage work in the pianos (so lyrically performed) suggested the dancers’ twisting lines turning themselves inside and out. Much of the dancing was by the male dancers only, balancing the female preponderance in the first work. In this Sonata, the “double” was also expressed in an unusual but poignant manner during the Andante by a pas de deux between two lithe male dancers. The piano soloists were truly an expressive, lyrical duo—not a percussive note was struck.

The third, “Twenty-seven,” Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 27 in B major, K. 595 (1791), with Russell Sherman as soloist, represents a mature work on Mozart’s part, his last piano concerto in his last year, with a much more dense texture, and more extended solo piano passages and cadenzas, so beautifully elucidated by Sherman. Morris presented the entire cast in soft, flowing white, in happy, effervescent contrast to the previous blacks and grays. The solo dancers during the cadenzas were particularly memorable. One did not want the evening to end, and in fact a quiet hush settled over the audience after the last six measures were performed by the orchestra alone, so energetically and stylishly conducted by the much-sought-after expert in Baroque and Classical music, Jane Glover. Indeed, all the talents seen and heard on this occasion were equally matched at a very high level.

Mary Wallace Davidson has directed the music libraries at Radcliffe, Wellesley, Eastman School of Music, and Indiana University. She now lives in the Boston area.

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